Back to the basics

Columns

It seems like digital and 3D are joined at the hip. Conversations within the circle of motion picture executives seem to always drift toward these two technologies. Yes, they are important and vital to the industry over the next decade, but are we obscuring other issues that can and will affect the industry today and in the very near term?

Piracy still runs rampant around the globe. It’s costing the industry billions of dollars every year and there seems to be no end on the horizon. Certainly the efforts of the Motion Picture Association are paying off in both the domestic and international markets. Mike Ellis and his team in Asia are doing an outstanding job and are very effective in bringing distribution and exhibition together to work at this effort in tandem. The MPA has truly taken on this fight worldwide and has made some great strides in certain territories, only to see the problem pop up in others. With exhibition becoming a major part of this effort in local communities and territories, we anticipate seeing favorable results in the near future.

Legislative issues still hinder the ability of theatrical exhibitors to give undivided attention to attracting potential customers to their cinemas. State legislatures around the country are jumping on the bandwagon to pass menu-labeling laws that require food establishments to post the caloric content of food they serve on premises. Although regional NATO groups have claimed that theatres should not be combined with restaurants and should be eliminated from the various statutes, there seem to be just enough precedents to keep them included.

The important factor concerning these bills is to set one standard, so that posting is consistent from one city to another. Therefore, states should consider following the California law which establishes a statewide standard and clearly pre-empts local ordinances and prohibits frivolous lawsuits.
In New York, an assemblywoman has introduced legislation that would prohibit the sound on movie trailers and screen advertising from being louder than the feature. Why is local government becoming involved in technical issues at the nation’s theatres? Will they be telling operators soon what time to start and end shows? Seems like we will need to take the time to meet and educate them.

With the credit markets drying up, studios are projecting that they will be producing fewer films in 2010 and 2011. Although the economy is a key driver of this reduction, it certainly has been a trend at some studios to downsize, to concentrate on the bigger movies that have the potential to become blockbusters or franchises. Coupled with the possibility of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild, production may be severely hindered in the next 24 months.

The lead time that a theatre has to exclusively show a film before it hits the DVD and cable markets continues to shrink. NATO is doing a good job monitoring this and lobbying the studios to maintain a reasonable time frame, but the practical problem is that studios want to get their product out to these ancillary markets as quickly as possible. The true nightmare is that a young studio exec with a Master’s degree from Harvard or Stanford is going to devise a way of releasing films through a national retail chain, grossing a cool $100 million in one day and completely bypassing movie theatres.
Yes, not all is rosy for theatre operators, but box office in 2008 reached a new level and proved a major point. No one can accurately predict how a film is going to do. The fear that was expressed by nearly everyone at the beginning of the year proved to be unfounded, as ticket sales clocked in at $9.63 billion, ahead of the $9.62 billion earned in 2007.

To this editor, the biggest disappointment is that theatre operators are losing the special feeling and excitement they once had for this industry. Where are the executives who truly love this business and come up with crazy and innovative promotions to get people into their theatres? Where is the showmanship that was so prevalent in the golden days of motion pictures? Today, theatre executives are too wrapped up in the bottom line and making the numbers dictated by corporate boardrooms and people who don’t really give a damn about this industry. It’s time to get back to the basics.